Hope and Peace Along the Way: A Mid-Term Family Update

I’m feeling inspired to write about our family life again, especially since I have some exciting news to share. Some hard stuff, too. So maybe the best way to get through it all is to just tell it.

First, back in May, we unexpectedly gave up the support of the Jesus Center in our community garden. The reasons for that decision probably need more context than I can honestly give here, so I’ll just say that it was a difficult decision to make. We are still trying to understand what that will mean for us in terms of the garden’s story. But for the time being, we call ourselves the 14th Street Garden instead of our former name (the Jesus Center Community Garden). And we still give away a majority of our production to folks who can’t afford it.

Also, right around that time, new volunteers from the Jesus Center started coming to help out in the garden. A good thing, right? Well, yes! But the timing was difficult because they initially came when we were out of town. So I wasn’t able to give any orientation or welcome and some tough things happened before we got back. Someone took our greenhouse mentor’s plants and used them in the garden without asking. She tried to get them back and was rudely told to “shut up” by one of the men. On top of that, someone built a temporary campsite in the garden area while we were gone and then left a lot of junk/trash around the place, causing my alley-neighbor to call the police several times. I’m trying to maintain a sincere welcome for all (especially for the homeless and poor) in the midst of everything. Still, the chaos was very intense from the very first day we got back from our trip.

Together with other worries about our housing coming up around this time, we began to feel like we were getting way in over our heads. In all honesty, we started to panic a little. The pressure was more than we thought we could handle. We began asking ourselves, “Do we need to move from here? I mean, given all the problems in the garden, the unfinished landscaping project, the BIG water leak, and our increasingly small income?”

Many of our friends saw us floundering and wanted to help us figure it out. Housing options and invitations came in. The possibilities varied, but they all seemed to involve accepting the determination that we had our hands full now and wouldn’t be able to continue under these conditions. I kind of agreed, of course, but I thought it best to wait for some kind of “sign” from God since we had been caught off guard by most of what happened.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Julissa got a call from an old neighbor asking if we could help her find a room available to rent. We knew Lonnie Aguilera from when Santiago was just born (before we went up to Paradise) back in 2008. She lived in a big boarding house that shared the parking lot next to our cottage. She would bring us food, offered us kitchen supplies that we needed, and helped arrange for my in-laws to stay in that house for almost 3 months. Since moving away, she started participating in a food ministry for the street crowd in Chico’s downtown park. So when she asked Julissa if we could accommodate someone else in the house, our initial thought, even despite the cooking for close to 150 people, was overwhelmingly yes. Excited, we met with her that same evening and talked through the details.

So long story short, in July, Lonnie moved in and we are very pleased she is here. The added rental income is just about right for our budget. And at the same time we get to experiment with a shared living situation. I thought it might be difficult to find a good housemate, considering that we have two young children and we’re trying to live a semi-unconventional life (see our rule of faith).  But both aspects were “no brainers” for her. It’s a good feeling.

Another piece of good news is the possibility of me going to Pemba, Mozambique for a 12-day visit to Iris Ministries. I’m looking forward to the cross-cultural experiences I’ll have while serving there and also the learning I expect to receive from the people I meet. The arrangements for this trip have been kind of daunting—again, probably more than I can handle. But I’m learning to trust now even more through the Spirit.

Which is kind of the point of this update, really. As God demonstrates his love for us in tangible ways, we are loving him back with our child-like trust, knowing that he will do exactly what he said. Why wouldn’t he keep on providing for all that his children ask for? Pray for us as we go further and deeper in. We send our love to each one of you.

My testimony in 500 words or less

I have applied for a 12-day visit with Iris Ministries in Pemba, Mozambique this winter. They asked that I write a “Personal Christian Testimony” for their verification process. So I adapted a longer version of my “life story” that I had just written for folks in Naked Faith. All of us in Naked Faith will eventually share one, but I was the first to go. Someone commented afterward that these stories might become great artifacts to share with our children when they’re older and wondering, “What was my mom or dad like when…?” Anyway, the shorter version leaves out a lot of details but I think it also allows a more poignant place for asking questions:

Although I remember experiencing God for the first time as a young boy (around 4 yrs old), and later saying some version of the “sinner’s prayer,” it wasn’t until my later adolescence that I began to see God’s love for me personally and follow Jesus.

My liberation came one Friday night when I was 18 yrs old. The beautiful girl I had been infatuated with told me in no uncertain terms that there could be no “us.” So I got drunk at a party and headed into our city’s downtown with some other drunk friends.

From there we foolishly started a fight. The alcohol and anger made us braver than we ought to have been. Before I could even connect a punch, the man had already hit me straight in the face two or three times. I crouched on the pavement waiting for my friends to jump in, but no one did. The next thing I knew, I was driving back to my parent’s house.

My parents were sitting in the family room with some friends having a quiet conversation when I walked in. Blood was caked all around my face—my eyes and nose and mouth swelling up. We just stared at each other. They were speechless. I tried to escape to my room. They followed, but something in me had broken.

I couldn’t believe how depressed I was after that, sometimes feeling too much, other times just feeling numb. It was difficult for me not to fantasize about using drugs or alcohol during this time of detox. Mercifully, I was too far gone socially to face my friends or to anesthetize. I felt betrayed. And I was heartbroken.

Over the next several months my spiritual search began again, though I wasn’t involved with church yet. Mainly, I came to feel purposeful about my life and wanted some help discerning what that meant. My mom was instrumental in the beginning at getting me to accept new spiritual experiences, like going with the entire family to a prophetic conference in Anaheim and then, eventually, registering me for a new student weekend at a Christian college (kind of like a spiritual retreat or youth conference).

The last 14 years or so of my life have been about trying to practice the courage Jesus showed me when I finally came to myself. I’m learning to trust my Father, even as a poor man. I’m learning to love my enemies. Even in a society living on fear and blind to “the things that make for peace.” I’m learning to love my wife and children and to lean on Jesus’ body, believing they are there, even if it seems that no one else is. Nowadays, I can’t even imagine living without the Father and the testimony of the Spirit. I stay awake sometimes dreaming about what He might do in us. And I’m still in love, loving our life together, and following Jesus.